Nuclear power decline ‘would lead to increased emissions’: IEA

Jack Unwin 28 May 2019 (Last Updated May 28th, 2019 12:47)

The IEA has warned that the decline of nuclear power in advanced economic countries would lead to an additional four billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2040.

Nuclear power decline ‘would lead to increased emissions’: IEA
The IEA warn that a decline in nuclear power could lead to increased emissions. Credit: David Dixon.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that the decline of nuclear power in advanced economic countries would lead to an additional four billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2040. The warning comes in the group’s report ‘Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System’, published 28 May.

There is currently 422GW of nuclear power installed in the world, making it the second-largest source of low carbon energy in the world. Despite this, the IEA argues that nuclear power’s future is ‘uncertain’. It estimates that at its current rate nuclear power will decline by 25% by 2025 and by 66% in 2040.

The IEA also states that even with the massive advancement of renewable energy in the past 20 years renewable energy would have to expand ‘five-fold’ to meet falling nuclear demand, at a cost of $1.6tn.

The nuclear plants that are currently in operation are ageing; the average age of a nuclear reactor is 32 years old. In countries including the US nuclear plants are closing early despite being given 60-year operating licences. Due to high investment costs, their replacement by the next generation of plants has been sluggish.

The report made eight policy recommendations for governments to follow, which include valuing non-market benefits like being low-carbon and supporting new reactor designs like small modular reactors (SMRs).

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said: “Without an important contribution from nuclear power, the global energy transition will be that much harder.

“Alongside renewables, energy efficiency and other innovative technologies, nuclear can make a significant contribution to achieving sustainable energy goals and enhancing energy security. But unless the barriers it faces are overcome, its role will soon be on a steep decline worldwide, particularly in the US, Europe and Japan.”

Friends of the Earth head of science Mike Childs commented: “Nuclear power is more expensive than solar power and onshore and offshore wind.

“But more importantly it generates dangerous waste for which there is still no safe disposal option. To protect the future of our planet and deal with the climate crisis, we need to invest in renewable energy, backed by energy storage, as the safest and cheapest way forward.”

The report was released at the tenth clean energy ministerial in Vancouver, Canada.